My Traveltude is Pickling: Day 34

There are very few places on this Earth more beautiful Croatia's islands, particularly that of Brac. Thanks to Stjepan's suggestions, we knew exactly how to maximize our time in this wonderland: with scooters! Driving along the coast, we felt waves of heat in the sun and refreshing cool under the trees. Bugs slapped our arms, helmets, chests, and faces with thuds probably audible meters away. We felt like singing along to the hum of the little motor, but the thought of a June bug explosion in the mouth stopped us from acting on those thoughts. None of the many white craggy beaches on our way seemed good enough for this island excursion, so we booked it across the island, 30km away to the city of Bol. The last 9km were magnificent; streets winding down the coast with steep, craggy hills off the road's shoulder. A wrong turn could have sent me on a fun, but fatal, fall to the sea. I loved it.

The beach in Bol had an ambiance worthy of bottling, and I felt I was finally detached from my familiar world. Alexis and I relaxed in peace on the smooth pebbled beach, swam in the crystal clear water, and sat with smiles feeling like we truly got somewhere we will forever remember. After that, the rest of the night was just a happy blur of beautiful scenery, ice cream and ferry beers, Cankles and Saddlebags, and a flavorful homemade stew in the garden. Stjepan, Mr. Lino, Brac, Split and Croatia treated us very well, to say the leastest.

Eleven hours in a train from Split to Budapest; we got serious cabin fever. We walked it out soon after the train pulled into the station when we made the thirty minute jaunt to a very hidden hostel. The street ambiance was a little worrisome, but all the women walking around at midnight displayed the safety of the city - either that or showed there was a nice 'after hours street walking' biz around these parts. Either way, I had a twelve kilo pack and a 7'13" companion for protection.

At this point, it seems like the time to reflect on our day in Budapest, starting from our reunion with Garrett, continuing with our handball games by the Danube, and concluding with a thermal bath scene; however, because I am so backlogged on all this writing, it is only the matters of the day that come to mind and not the mess of thoughts that pulse through my head with each giggle, step, and turn of the corner. I know I'm not completely amused with this sort of documentation and find the act of reading it more of a chore than a pleasure. So it may be now that I cut to my lasting impressions of Hungary.

A city is a city. There's so much to see that is uniquely local and telling of its residents, but when you hop from country to country in search of wide-ranging joys and unique memories, each place turns into the next location to take a shower, rest your legs, and find a way to do your laundry with a little sight-seeing on the side. All this jumping caught up with me.

I tried to order a pickle and received two chicken sandwiches instead. I tried purchasing a ticket for a cheap little train, but thanks to a woman in front of me in need of every train time table that week, I had to use a valuable day on my rail pass. Hungary got to me. And it wasn't for the mere fact that I was in this country - it was my 17th destination (at least) on the trip - in one month! It was another Malaysia; I couldn't quite appreciate it while there. My frazzled brain caused incidents only to be blamed by my ignorance. My legs hurt, my journal was blank, and I just left the mystical, therapeutic ocean. Good thing Eger was all about wine tasting. Eger was laying in a camper in the rain, tasting wine and the occasional thermal bath, but my gratitude to the country was missing. One of the greatest travel travesties...

Yeah, I know. Suck it up. Look where you are. I needed a jolt. I had slowly fallen asleep. And a jolt we received a few borders away.

Come Come: Day 30

Ahh, Croatia. The country holds so many memories for me and by far constitutes as the highlight destination for this Euro adventure. The first smile inducer? Zagreb - big park, another park, bigger park, traditional festival and concert on the promenade! City square, church, street filled with cafes! While we were in Innsbruck at an internet cafe, someone warned us against going to Croatia's capital city at all, claiming nothing was there. What was this guy thinking? All travel advice is definitely not good...even if this stranger meant well. Alexis and I spent three or four hours wandering the city and people watching over beers, astounded by all the people sporting neon orange and yellow color coordinated outfits. I think American fashion trends thankfully missed the band wagon there.

One tiny and smoke-filled train five hours later brought us to something we've been desperately missing: the ocean. Split's coast jutted out into the Adriatic, creating a harbor for all its beautiful ferries to neighboring islands of paradise. The beauty was somewhat lost on us though as we descended into the city. We had been e-mailing a travel agent for private accommodations throughout the day. Stjepan's English made us giggle, but his non-stop questions began to worry us. He wanted to meet us for 'café time' to discuss our trip in detail. This, along with his descriptions of our apartment landlord who would pick us up from the train, sent our imaginations racing with hilarious scenarios of creepy old men never leaving us alone.

Mr. Lino was standing outside our train car, among all the relentless women with other budget apartments, holding a printed sign with our names on it. His vocabulary was limited to a few phrases that cracked us up with each circumstantial usage. "Hello!" He was a loud, happy talker. "Come come," when he would stop en route to his place, look around with wide eyes, and usher us forward once again. "Plajia!" Plaza? Park? Ohh, beach! Wow, that's really close to our place. But is this neighborhood safe? "Oooohhh, very safe! Sicuro sicuro sicuro!" Well, then I guess it's safe. Everything this man said to us made us smile big and laugh from the gut. When he left us to our new apartment, we found a cute little kitchen, a gorgeous garden, free laundry, and satellite TV to satiate our VH1 retro music video deficiencies.

The next morning was our 'café time' with the agent, Stjepan, who turned out to be much older than even crazy old Mr. Lino. We had no idea who we were expecting based on his frequent and inquisitive e-mails. Stjepan walked us to the beach to participate in the morning, and almost hourly, ritual of drinking coffee and watching life go by. We discussed what we planned on doing during this trip to Croatia, and he offered valuable information to us about ferries, island trips, cultural insight, and some language lessons in Croatian.

The rest of the day was a fantastic time at the beach. Off the shore for nearly 150m, the water was thigh deep and the perfect court for Croatian beach handball, a game of hitting a little ball around to a few friends standing in a circle, involving lots of body dives into the sandy ocean floor. Alexis tried to creep into a game or two, but her attempts to blend in were not successful.

We unfortunately had no handball to start our own game, so I spotted the three young boys next to us with a ball they weren't using. I started off by trying to convince one via hand gestures to push Alexis off the boardwalk and into the water. He laughed and told me to do it. Then they threw their ball into the water, which I attacked like it was my juicy prey and kept it from three crazy ten year-old boys. Their English vocabulary was limited to two phrases: "I kill you" and another more inappropriate one, which was accompanied by middle fingers. It was all in good fun, needn't you worry, as they laughed together, concocting schemes to retrieve their ball from the foreigner taunting them. Ah, good times at the beach. Don't worry; I gave the ball back, eventually.

Two emaciated cats started joining our garden side dinners, made from the produce at a nearby stand, and our party soon doubled. Fondly named Cankles and Saddlebags, our new little friends ate hot dog bits like they were going out of style, but they never trusted us enough to pet them, sadly (I think those rabies shots gave me a false sense of confidence when trying to pet wild animals).

We were tempted to try out the nightlife at a beach club, but instead we watched a TV special on Tupac's death, nursed our new kitties to health, and got plenty of rest for our subsequent island adventure: experiencing the essence of Croatia's perfection.